7 December 2013

Whatever happened to Genesis? (3)

In 1549, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer placed, in the Preface to his English Book of Common Prayer, the following complaint (borrowed from Cardinal Quinones) about the pre-Reformation Liturgy: "... commonly, when any book of the Bible was begun, after three or four chapters were read out, all the rest were unread. And in this sort the book of Isaiah was begun in Advent, and the book of Genesis in Septuagesima; but they were only begun, and never read through ..."

And it remained the aim of the Church of England through four centuries to provide its clergy and laity with what the Second Vatican Council was later to call a "ditior  mensa verbi Dei" so that "praestantior pars Scripturarum Sanctarum populo legatur". These words echo those of Cranmer: "all the whole Bible or the greatest part thereof". More Scripture; most of the Bible. That is the good news. The bad news is that Cranmer went about providing for the greatly enlarged diet of Scripture which the Church of England was to have by distributing the books of the Bible according to the Civil Calendar. Thus Genesis started at the beginning of January, and Scripture marched relentlessly on, almost entirely ignoring Lent and Easter (even Good Friday and Easter Day did not have a complete provision proper to the Day). Every year, on March 31, you got the same readings, whether it was Sunday or weekday, fast or festival, Holy Week or Easter Week.

The Catholic Revival in the Church of England led to a recovery, first among the Tractarians and then, eventually, in the church at large, of the old sense of the distinctiveness of the Christian seasons. And so, once again, Genesis began to be read on Septuagesima Sunday, as first ordered by S Gregory the Great on the eve of the Conversion of England a millennium and a half before. This process of restoration started in 1871, when Genesis was restored to the Gesima Sundays. And in 1922 a new lectionary completed that process by rolling out Genesis also onto the weekdays from Septuagesima; and that lectionary remains still legally available for use in the Church of England. It appeared in the Prayer Book which the synodical organs of the Church of England approved in 1928; and in 1961 an improved revision of it was authorised (although that particular authorisation has now lapsed). Various provinces adopted its main lines, even reputedly 'Evangelical' provinces like Ireland and Canada. The Scottish Prayer Book of 1929 did not adopt the English lectionary, but made its own ... with Genesis locked onto Septuagesima. This had become the consensus of informed Anglicanism. With one oddity*, this arrangement survived into the Alternative Service Book, which took the Church of England through to the end of the millennium.
*The oddity in the ASB was that Sunday Office readings started Genesis on the Ninth Sunday Before Christmas, because of the whimsical invention of a Creation Etcetera Season. This Brilliant Idea never endeared itself to anybody. But ... curiously ... as far as weekdays were concerned, Genesis still began in the ASB on (the Monday after) Septuagesima (renamed the Ninth Sunday Before Easter).
To be continued, so that I can draw some conclusions from this narrative.

1 comment:

Dia tech said...

Thank you for sharing this information with the world.It will certainly help educate me.Genesis